Monday, March 1, 2010

Liverpool won the title, their first since 1966. Surprise? Or just normal? Only ten years ago Liverpool played in the Second Division. Since than – two titles and steady performance in the upper layers of English football. Bill Shankly was regarded as one of the top managers. Yet, it was not often mentioned club: unlike other English clubs, Liverpool did not win European tournaments. At home, it was Manchester United capturing the minds in the 1960s and Leeds United after 1968. The biggest English stars played elsewhere. Liverpool were solid and… nothing more. So, it was a surprise title in a way – the bets were on Leeds. And it was not a surprise: Liverpool was among the favourites and considering the English tradition of new champions every year – why not Liverpool? In 1973 nobody imagined how much Liverpool will change English football. Nobody imagined them collecting title after title at home and abroad. Nobody imagined them becoming one of the most successful clubs in the world and a flagship of both British and European football. For me Liverpool was practically new club at the time – and the first picture of them was funny: it was wrong. It was originally published by Football Pictorial and quickly reprinted in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria. The fact nobody corrected the wrong names speaks volumes: Liverpool was not well known. The players were not easily recognizable… according to this photo, Keegan was blond lad on the left of the middle row…

The wrong champions.
And the right champions:

Back row, left to right: John McLaughlin, Phil Boersma, Phil Thompson, Trevor Storton, Alec Lindsay, Peter Cormack, Kevin Keegan.
Centre: Jack Witham, Peter Thompson, Larry Lloyd, Frank Lane, Ray Clemence, John Toshack, Steve Heighway.
Front row: Ian Callaghan, Emlyn Hughes, Bill Shankly – manager, Tommy Smith, Brian Hall, Chris Lawler.
By the standards of 1973 – not exactly star-studded squad. Not the ‘archetypal’ Liverpool either… Apart from Emlyn Hughes and John Toshack – no stars. Good workers aplenty: Smith, Cormack, Lloyd, Lawler. New discovery – Keegan (Shankly was still skeptical about his abilities). Things changed with the title: Clemence, Phil Tompson, Lindsay, were invited to the national team. None of them established himself solidly in the national squad… it was not only strong competition: those players somehow did not convince England’s managers. The dislike of Clemence baffled me at the time: surely it was difficult to replace a giant like Banks, but to me Clemence was far more reliable keeper than Shilton and bunch of others. Yet, he was uncertain first choice (the reason ‘the bunch of others’ were invited). The point here is not to argue Clemence’s greatness: the point is that in 1973 Liverpool was not seen as fascinating team. One year wonder? How wrong everybody was.